How a Healthy Diet Could Benefit Your Lungs

COPD risk was lower in patients who ate a healthy diet

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) As if boosting heart health and cutting cancer risk weren't good enough reasons to eat a healthy diet, new evidence suggests that chowing down on healthy fare may also help keep your lungs healthy.

Eating more whole grains and nuts and less red meat and sugar lowered the risk of a serious lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a new study found.

"Although efforts to prevent COPD should continue to focus on smoking cessation, these prospective findings support the importance of a healthy diet in ... programs to prevent COPD," wrote the authors of this study, led by Raphaelle Varraso, PhD, of the University of Versailles in France.

Two lung diseases — emphysema and chronic bronchitis — are forms of COPD. Patients with emphysema have damage to the air sacs in their lungs, which makes it hard to catch their breath. In chronic bronchitis, the air tubes of the lungs are inflamed, which results in a chronic cough, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. Smoking is a well-known risk factor for COPD.

Dr. Varraso and team looked at data on more than 12,000 people who completed surveys about their diet.

These researchers classified the diets according to how much healthy and unhealthy food the patients ate.

People with the healthiest diets ate the most whole grains, polyunsaturated fats, nuts and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like nuts and salmon). They also ate the smallest amounts of red or processed meat, refined grains and sugar-sweetened drinks.

Dr. Varraso and colleagues also noted whether patients in this study had lung disease. There were 723 cases of COPD in female patients and 167 in male patients during the roughly 15-year study period.

Eating the healthiest diet reduced the risk of COPD by about a third — compared to those who ate the worst diet. Even current and former smokers who ate healthily had a reduced risk of COPD.

"Our results encourage clinicians to consider the potential role of the combined effect of foods in a healthy diet in promoting lung health," Dr. Varraso and team wrote.

This study was published Feb. 3 in The BMJ.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 1, 2015
Last Updated:
February 5, 2015